Month: September 2018

We’re #96! We’re #96! . . . . Now What?

Now that the dust has settled and we’ve collected our t-shirts celebrating the fact that Saint Anselm College has broken into US News and World Report’s list of the top 100 liberal arts colleges in America (tied at #95), it’s time for a sober assessment of what our newfound status actually means. As recently as two years ago, Saint Anselm College was ranked #115. Last year, the college reached #106. Are we that much better than two years ago? What’s going on?

The short answer is that while we may be getting better, we’re not getting that much better that fast. In large part, our rise in the rankings has to do with modifications that US News and World Report (USN&WR) has made to its calculations. The weights in the ranking formula break down into the following manner:

Outcomes (35%)

  • social mobility (5%)
  • graduation and retention rates (22%)
  • graduation rate performance (8%)

Faculty Resources (20%)

  • class size (8%)
  • faculty salaries (7%)
  • full-time faculty with highest possible degree in field (3%)
  • student-faculty ratio (1%)
  • proportion of faculty that is full-time (1%)

Expert Opinion (20%)

  • peer assessment (15%)
  • high school counselor assessment (5%)

Financial Resources (10%)

Student Excellence (10%)

  • standardized test scores (7.75%)
  • high school class standing (2.25%)

Alumni Giving (5%)

These weights represent a change from last year:

  • Outcomes were upgraded from 30% to 35%. This was done by adding the social mobility category (5%) which is based on the graduation rates of those with Pell Grants. Graduation and retention rates were lowered from 22.5% to 22%, and the category of graduation rate performance was raised from 7.5% to 8%.
  • Expert opinion was downgraded from 22.5% to 20%. In the case of liberal arts colleges, this was mainly because the high school counselor assessment was nudged downward from 7.5% to 5%.
  • Finally, Student Excellence was pushed down from 12.5% to 10%. This change was accomplished by eliminating the acceptance rate (1.25%) and reducing the weight of standardized testing as well as class standing.

These changes undoubtedly played to our strengths and downplayed our weaknesses. First, we have always done rather well with outcomes. USN&WR measures this category rather narrowly, but in other rankings—Forbes, Money Magazine, and The Economist—which look at postgraduate experiences, Saint Anselm College always ranks fairly high in return on investment. In other words, our alumni go on to get higher-paying jobs than one would expect from looking at their backgrounds. Second, diminishing the value of the high school counselor assessment probably did us no harm; Saint Anselm College has a very good regional reputation but is largely unknown outside of New England. Third, lightening the weight of the student excellence category probably helped. Saint Anselm College is not terribly selective, while the test scores and class ranks are above average but not spectacular.

There’s no denying that the USN&WR rankings are problematic. They are a strange mix of fact and personal opinion. USN&WR claims that “hard objective data alone determine each school’s rank” but it relies on “expert opinion” which is hardly hard or objective. Moreover, the weight assigned to each category is arbitrary, the product of somebody’s opinion. One Thing after Another is not terribly original in pointing out these problems; one can find many criticisms of the rankings.

Having said all that, Saint Anselm College has earned this recognition, even if that recognition is based on faulty premises. The faculty, by and large, is conscientious and strives to do its best by students. For example, in recent years, the History Department has made a number of changes to the major—including the introduction of new courses, an emphasis on student research, and a stress on internships. And our department is not alone in making such changes. On paper, we are not a selective college. Nonetheless, we obtain good classes because half of our students come from Massachusetts which has the best public schools in the nation (New Hampshire, from which another quarter of our students hail, ranks very highly in this category as well). And we can see in the classroom the good results yielded by Admissions. The curriculum, while not without its defects, still provides students with a broad liberal arts education along with an appreciation for learning. Our alumni go on to lead valuable, productive, and fulfilling lives. Several years out, our former students earn more than graduates from our peer institutions. This blog knows all of these things first hand; One Thing after Another has taught at the college for over fifteen years, and it remains in touch with many alums. It is often satisfying to contemplate the works of our students and graduates. This blog won’t claim that Saint Anselm College has discovered some magic formula for success, but what we do here generally seems to work. We take above-average students and make them better. As we strive to improve, let’s keep in mind that we seem to be pretty good at undergraduate education; it might not be the worst idea to double-down on what we do best.

Lefrancois at the Worcester District Attorney’s Office

Recently, history major Kevin Lefrancois ’15 got back in touch with the department to say hello and ask for letters of recommendation as he applied to MA programs in International Relations. We were really interested in his job at the Worcester District Attorney’s Office, so we asked him a few questions about his time there and how it intersected with his major in history.

Q: What drew you to Saint Anselm College?

A: I applied to about 10 different schools throughout the country. I had already decided that I would be pursuing a history or political science degree which helped me limit my options, but after visiting the school and quickly seeing myself walk across the quad and past the Abbey to attend classes, it quickly became apparent to me that St. A’s would be one of my top choices. I had attended a Catholic high school, which also helped me to feel more at home and lean even closer to choosing Saint A’s. Ultimately, the decision came down to the fact that Saint A’s was the only institution in my opinion that had a strong combination of devoted staff and unique course offerings for both majors. During Accepted Students’ Day I quickly struck up conversations with professors from both departments and saw their enthusiasm for their subjects which made me feel like even more at home.

Q: Why did you major in history? Did you think about criminal justice?

A: For me, history covers all aspects of a society including art, literature, science, religion, law and politics. I have thus always appreciated the subject. Also an astute observer of history may predict future trends. When I looked at the course catalogue and saw the range of topics, from Ancient Rome to the Modern History of Japan, I knew that I would be given the opportunity to expand my knowledge of the world in new and exciting ways. A fascinating aspect of history for me has been the development of law across different nations and people. Every country has its own way of judging morality, especially in the form of criminal justice. I had developed an interest in criminal justice during my high school years by participating in my school’s mock trial program. There I acquired insight into the basics of the American criminal justice system and how a trial is supposed to proceed. I quickly knew that I would love to work someday as an attorney who brought justice to others.

Q: What was your most memorable experience in history (or at SAC)?

A: The most memorable time for me at Saint Anselm College was the opportunity I was given to assemble the audio and presentation equipment for the Humanities lectures. The Humanities program was one of my favorite courses of study during my time at Saint A’s since it was then an extensive history seminar program that covered centuries of western civilization’s development. During these assembly sessions I was given the golden opportunity to converse with the professors and lecturers before they would address the crowd, giving me some key insights into various subjects.

Q: When did you first know you were interested in law? How did you get your foot in the door at the District Attorney’s Office?

A: I first became interested in law in high school, and I joined the mock trial team. Junior year I acted as an expert witness and had to learn to stand up under the examination and cross-examination of the prosecuting attorney, a challenging exercise in clearly articulating complicated legal concepts under pressure. This particular case dealt with white-collar crime, but senior year I had the chance to deal with a manslaughter investigation which kindled my true interest. I played the role of a police officer and had to learn forensic techniques by heart to provide expert testimony. I had a glimpse of the painstaking load law enforcement shoulders to prosecute a case properly. My fascination with law continued into college, and sophomore year at St. A’s I started looking for internships. My search brought me to Worcester, MA where I interned with the Worcester District Attorney’s Office for the next several years. I had a chance to impress the District Attorney himself with my work, and upon graduation I was offered a job.

Q: What do you do every day?

A: At first I worked as the Juvenile Court Administrator for the District Attorney’s Office. I worked with the Department of Children and Families, gang violence, drugs, firearms, and more. I organized the juvenile cases and assisted the attorneys in their trial preparation. In addition, I was a Trial Court Assistant, which involved presenting evidence, technical support, and in-court assistance to prosecutors. Usually I worked with homicide cases at the District Court level. After a year, I was promoted to Internship Coordinator in which capacity I interviewed, hired, and supervised hundreds of interns. I ensured that they had opportunities to handle casework, shadow attorneys, and otherwise have opportunities for hands-on education in the legal profession. Finally, I was also responsible for community outreach which often involved presentations at businesses, schools, and community centers within the county.

Q: What do you do on the Opioid Crisis Task Force? Do you feel like you are making any headway in this crisis? Do you focus on law enforcement, education, treatment, or some other aspect of this problem?

A: I worked with the Opioid Addiction Task Force created by the District Attorney. The Task Force was responsible for innovative programs intended to curb widespread drug abuse in Worcester County and was expressly tailored to community needs. Worcester County includes over 60 different towns in addition to the city, which meant working side-by-side with community leaders in all walks of life. I represented the District Attorney at many working meetings with these leaders. In addition I was responsible for the maintenance of the Opioid Addiction Resource List, which included rehabilitation clinics, hospitals, halfway houses, and other organizations that offer support to those suffering from opioid addiction. I especially focused on the families. We tried to walk a fine line between prosecution and rehabilitation of those suffering from opioid addiction, which included providing police officers with various alternative means of justice, such as education or medical support. Opioid deaths decreased rapidly in Worcester County, a strong sign of success. Our education initiatives were, in my view, particularly effective at a grass-roots level.

Graduating Seniors Remember Professor Shannon’s Conversatio Section

In addition to teaching history courses, some History faculty also teach in the first-year Conversatio program.  Because it is a required course for all first-year students, History faculty get to teach a wide variety of students with majors across all the disciplines. Four years ago, Professor Silvia Shannon had a particularly lively and engaged seminar.

Participant Theodore (Ted) Boivin ’18 described it “as one of the best highlights of my freshman year. We had a truly wonderful group with some excellent discussions on a wide array of topics, debating everything from ancient Greek tragedy to 20th-century bioethics, sharing diverse perspectives on the material.”

Four years later, the students still remembered the seminar and their experience together.  As Ted wrote, “While we were being lined up for the procession into the Honors Convocation [in May 2018], Andrew Bompastore and I noticed that, of the twenty-eight students who achieved Summa Cum Laude status this year, seven of us were all in Professor Shannon’s Conversatio section: Olive Capone, Maddie Dunn, Emily Garcia, Erin Krell, Olivia Thornburg, and Andrew and me. We took a picture to send to you as a Conversatio throwback with our thanks for such an amazing start to our four years! We couldn’t have done it without you!”

A Classics major and History minor, Ted is headed off to the University of Cincinnati for a PhD in classical philology (the study of the life, languages, and thought of the Ancient Greek and Roman worlds). Biology major and Neuroscience minor Erin Krell is pursuing graduate studies in psychology at the University of New Hampshire. Education Studies major and Philosophy minor Olive Capone is pursuing teaching positions in New York State.

All faculty know that the success of a seminar requires a combination of excellent teaching skill, careful listening, curious and engaged students, and a little luck. Congratulations to Professor Shannon and these class of 2018 grads on one great seminar.